The Dark Side of eBook Popularity?


Welcome to another “State of the eBook”. We’ve got some quick news to review, and then a discussion of something that keeps publishers up at night; piracy in ebook-land. Is it an epidemic of music proportions or is it the straw-man argument that publishers use to justify high prices, digital rights management, and slow ebook adoption?

In eBook news:

Amazon Kindle has a price drop, plus a GSM version has been announced. Great news for everyone outside the USA!

Forrester Research has raised their sales outlook for eBook readers to 3 million units sold this year!

Despite Dan (and most of the internet) yelling at Amazon, they can still remotely delete books (though they swear they won’t use it unless ordered to by the court).

Techradar has an excellent, in-depth review of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

Finally, Simon and Schuster is promoting what they call the “vook”, or an ebook combined with video capabilities. It certainly has some potential, especially with how-to books, but what sort of device could play one? An Apple Tablet, perhaps?

And now, on to the discussion of the day, brought on by this NY Times article: Will Books be Napsterized? (Via Mobileread)

The gang on the Mobileread Forums has picked the article apart pretty well, mainly pointing out that Rapidshare is being used as a scapegoat, especially since there is no research or reference to bitorrent numbers, etc. What I really question whether the pirated ebook market is really that big. It seems like the rise of eBooks has coincided pretty tightly with the rise of Amazon’s eBook store, Sony’s Connect store, Barnes and Noble buying Fictionwise, etc. There isn’t really a “Napster for eBooks”, and the trend towards including wireless stores into Readers makes it easier to download books. Yes, books cost money, and pirated books are free, but there’s also a convenience factor. Hunting around for an ebook, determining it’s not a fake, and converting it to a format compatible with your personal reader is not going to appeal to the average consumer. And readers like the Sony Reader Daily Edition are being built with access to libraries and google books, meaning a very large swath of free books.

It seems like the most glaring cases of piracy are books that aren’t available in ebook form, like Harry Potter. And Amazon famously pulled George Orwell and Ayn Rand after they were uploaded without proper copyright permissions.

Maybe it’s me, but I love buying books in all their forms, even the electronic kinds. I have a hard time even using the library, because I want “my” copy of a book. So to everyone else out there: Do you download “pirated” ebooks? If so, what is the reason? Price, availability, lack of DRM? If not, what are your reasons why not?

Categories: eBooks, Editorials

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5 replies

  1. I’ll note one thing about the pirated e-book issue; yes, people will pirate e-books… but stopping the piracy, or scapegoating a file sharing site, will no more stop the piracy than suing Napster stopped music piracy. Nor will shutting those services down necessarily make for more customers, especially not when an ebook with DRM is basically less ‘purchased’ and more ‘rented’, since the downing of that e-book provider means that your books are inaccessible if you have to switch devices, or if the provider dies, or you move onto a platform which doesn’t support that DRM model: MobiPocket was my bane, especially when some Star Trek books I bought for a WM5 device couldn’t be read on an iPod Touch since MobiPocket was bought out by Amazon, which means that I’d have to repurchase anything I ‘bought’ for Kindle for iPhone… that is, if Kindle for iPhone worked outside the United States.

    There are pirates who, when confronted with convenient and reasonably priced services, will never stop pirating – they’ll never be your customers to begin with, and the focus on locking down everything so that there is no piracy only serves to dissuade consumers from moving over to the new model, unless the DRM is so unobtrusive that it doesn’t really hamper the usage of the media. This is something that, unfortunately, is somewhat lacking in ebooks so far, since there has yet to be an iTunes-like experience with eBooks which has been relatively universal and easily accessible (Kindle marketplace locks things down too much; Sony even more so until recently, and even with their abandoning BBeB for Adobe Digital Editions they’re still somewhat locked down, and MobiPocket WAS the easiest – you could have multiple devices on a variety of platforms with the same books – but has since gone over to the Kindle side at the beck and call of their corporate masters).

    Baen Webscriptions is probably the best ebook selling model I’ve seen thus far – they don’t DRM their product, they offer a free selection of FULL books (which Google Books doesn’t, for the most part – I still can’t find a full version of the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes which I can download and read) to whet the appetite of a would-be pirate, and then they allow you to read those books in a variety of formats (ePub, MobiPocket, RocketBooks, Sony BBEB) which are perfectly justified and laid out, because they did all the work for you. And you can redownload the books at will, without limit, and without fear that they’ll yank the book from your device after purchase because they WANT to. Even Apple, with its kill-switch, has so far avoided pulling this stunt; they disapproved Google Voice, but they’ve yet to be known in the news for being the company that’ll reach into the device for content you bought from them in order to remotely delete it without warning.

  2. Also, I find it a bit irritating that Amazon continues to block the Kindle in Canada, even though they allow it to exist without wireless access in Sri Lanka and Congo. Yet somehow Sony, even without Amazon’s major links to the big publishing houses, manages to license content for sale in Canada and North America… but Amazon somehow, with all its clout, won’t.

  3. I have had several books on my WM devices all the way back to PPC 2000.
    I was anxious for the ebook thing to take off, and have been disappointed at every turn. I honestly never read a book from cover to cover until I was able to take it with me on my PDA and have it wherever I went.

    I have downloaded pirated copies of books and then bought the paperback, just to have the electronic version with me. I always thought that ebooks would become available at a significant discount, because of the lack of cost to the publisher, but I again was disappointed as the publishers weren’t willing to lose any chunk of their profit margin. I would be ok with this if there wasn’t any DRM on the titles that are available in electronic format. I refuse to buy any ebook with DRM because If I have a group of 6 friends and we all buy different books, read them and then share them with each other this isn’t considered illegal, but for reasons beyond me it’s not ok to do this with an ebook. Even If I don’t share it, I still may have to repurchase it if I get a different device or the company goes out of business.

    I don’t know if they’re still around, but there was a library somewhere in the U.S. that was offering users to borrow copies of ebooks that they had purchased for the library. If they had 3 licenses for a certain book, then 3 borrowers could download the book for a period of 2 weeks and then it would no longer open on your device. At that same time it would then become available for someone else to borrow. If you hadn’t finished it in 2 weeks you could borrow (download it again) for another 2 week period.

    I would love it if this would become more mainstream and more titles were available to borrow.

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